Hands-on with Starlink by SpaceX, a real competitor for NBN

When Elon Musk announced he’d put thousands of satellites in the sky and deliver internet to the world, it sounded like a far-fetched pipe dream that would never come...

When Elon Musk announced he’d put thousands of satellites in the sky and deliver internet to the world, it sounded like a far-fetched pipe dream that would never come true. Here we are in 2021 and Starlink is available in many parts of the world (US, Canada, including Australia.

Given Australia’s challenging geography of a heavily distributed population across a large geographic area, Starlink has the opportunity to deliver high-speed internet to people in regional and rural locations that NBN simply could not.

Starlink works very differently than traditional satellite internet like SkyMuster, in that it operates in low-earth orbit. This has many positives, but also some drawbacks. At the time of writing, there are 1553 Starlink satellites in orbit with batches of 60 going up every other week. With closer proximity to earth, Starlink is able to offer faster speeds and lower latency than other satellite options.

The downside of running satellites closer is that these are more susceptible to space junk and can need replacing.

This week I had the opportunity to get hands-on with Starlink and see what it’s like in regional Victoria.

Setup

Each Starlink Kit includes everything you need to get online including your Starlink (dish), Wi-Fi router, power supply, cables and mounting tripod.

From the moment you first see the Starlink box, you get an appreciation that this is a big product. When you open the box, you’ll find that the satellite dish accounts for a majority of the size, but there’s also a significant portion of the box allocated to the very generous network cable. After removing the hard plastic packaging, it reveals the remaining components and allows you to finally remove the dish.

Setup is a breeze, just sit down the tripod and insert the dish into the top of it until you hear the click that lets you know it’s secure in place. There are other mounting options available (like a pole or roof mount for A$60), but the tripod mount is the only one included.

The dish needs to be setup outside to connect to the satellites, so finding the right location may be your hardest task. For testing I used our back lawn, but more permanent setups will take some more consideration. With the location sorted, connect the ethernet cable from the dish to the power brick, and network cable to the router and also the power brick (the white and black sides to the power brick makes this obvious and fool proof).

With connections sorted, just plug the power cable in and download the Starlink Mobile app for Android or iOS. Once you have it installed, run it and tap Setup to get started.

Follow the on-screen prompts to guide you through the setup process. This setup is fast and easy, just connect to the hotspot created by Starlink, nominate a name for the WiFi network it produces and set a password to secure the network. If you’re replacing an existing WiFi network, let’s say from the NBN, then you’d be smart to use the same Network name (SSID) and password, which will allow your devices to join Starlink without reconfiguring.

When the setup is complete, the dish automatically orients to the required angle to connect with Starlink satellites for your location. It is these smarts that make Starlink significantly easier, and able to be done by consumers, compared to a qualified technician like in the case of a Foxtel dish installation who needs to manually align the dish.

Performance

The first real test of Starlink will be a Speed Test and within the Starlink mobile app, they understand this, offering a Speed Test button which takes you out to Fast.com. Personally I like SpeedTest.net as those with accounts can store their history of speed tests to compare performance between networks and at different times of the week.

Speedtest 1

My first speed test on May 12th at 2:50PM resulted in the following performance figures:

  • Download – 284 Mbps
  • Upload – 23.6 Mbps
  • Ping – 52ms

Speedtest 2

My second speed test on May 15th at 10:00AM resulted in the following performance figures:

  • Download – 255 Mbps
  • Upload – 40.7 Mbps
  • Ping – 39ms

From these couple of examples, we can see the speeds do bounce around a little, but are generally excellent, particularly for the downloads. The ping times as one of my biggest areas of interest, as the lower-earth orbit positions of Starlink satellites is specifically designed to deliver low-latency. At 39-52ms, it’ll be generally fine for browsing the web, email, watching movies and even most real-time communication like video conferencing.

If you’re a professional gamer, then clearly you’ll still be chasing lower ping times and if you have access to it, FTTP will always offer the lowest ping times, but for those that can’t, there is good news on the way.

The performance of Starlink today is not the end of the story, with Elon Musk posting in February that ‘Speed will double to ~300Mb/s & latency will drop to ~20ms later this year’.

Price

If you live in regional or rural Australia and have been frustrated by the speeds provided by NBN, then Starlink is a really viable option for you, offering a dramatic improvement to your internet speeds, regardless of the fact you may live in an area that isn’t densely populated.

Everyone will have a different perspective regarding the affordability of Starlink. There’s no doubt the NBN solutions are cheaper, so if you’re budget-constrained that’s your best option, but if you can prioritise internet in the budget, then here are the costs:

Hardware A$709.00 + $100 shipping and handling for a total of A$809.00. The Starlink service costs A$139.00 per month and for that price, you currently get unlimited data. That may change in the future as Starlink comes out of Beta phase, but for now it’s a decent deal.

If we analyse just the monthly cost for the performance you get it’s a compelling offer. Personally I pay A$99pm with Aussie Broadband for 100Mbps/20Mbps and unlimited data, on a FTTP NBN plan. Starlink would cost an additional A$30 per month, but for that I could almost triple the download speeds and make some improvements in upload.

Personally, I’ve never seen super low ping times at my house, regularly getting between 10-20ms, so they would take a bit of a hit for the short term, but if Musk can deliver on those promised reductions, we’ll be talking a fairly similar situation there.

Overall for a small incremental cost, Starlink could provide much faster internet. My next plan upgrade option at Aussie Broadband is 250/25Mbps for A$129, just $10 shy of Starlink. Going up to the top teir of 1Gbps/50Mbps costs A$149.00 or $10pm more than Starlink for as much as 3-4x the speed. From this, you can see it’s a challenging business case for anyone on FTTP to make the shift.

For those who are frustrated that the NBN didn’t deliver the speeds they wished (many are still on less than 50Mbps, so less than 20Mbps), then Starlink will be a very welcome option and they’d leave the NBN in a heartbeat, no longer being technology constrained, simply pay more to get more.

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Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis. Disclaimer: Tesla Shareholder from 20/01/2021
27 Comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

  • Merv Ruge
    16 May 2021 at 2:18 pm
  • Nigel McIntosh
    16 May 2021 at 7:19 pm

    Are you serious Jason, this isn’t to be compared to users like yourself on FTTP. This is for regional and remote users who have suffered under an non-affordable fast internet options that don’t exist in the regional Australia. Your last 4 paragraphs comparing it to fixed line internet is just bad journalism and no comparison whatsoever. Especially for someone on FTTP. How about giving this unit to someone in the bush and letting them experience a real unlimited internet solution, then you might have something to report on from a real user in regional australia and not someone sitting on FTTP throwing out an experience that is compared to.
    We do agree on something however, Starlink is and will be great.

    Leave a Reply
    • some guy
      16 May 2021 at 7:59 pm

      “If you’re a professional gamer, then clearly you’ll still be chasing lower ping times and if you have access to it, FTTP will always offer the lowest ping times”

      I don’t think he realises there are no FTTP’s or “professional gamers” out there in regional Victoria… That dozen+ years of tech journalism probably scarred lines into him as he lost the ability to process new contexts

      Leave a Reply
      • Jason Cartwright
        16 May 2021 at 8:41 pm
        • T.
          18 May 2021 at 9:05 am

          No. Your comment told us that you have no idea what it is like to try to internet in the bush. Arguing your point just reinforces your lack of understanding.

          Leave a Reply
    • Some guy
      16 May 2021 at 8:09 pm

      He says FTTN is cheaper. In regional victoria. And yet I haven’t to this day called NBN had them kindly run 30km of fibre and and nodes to my house to replace skydumpster- maybe I don’t need starlink afterall?

      Leave a Reply
      • Some guy
        17 May 2021 at 3:08 pm

        Oops, didn’t get any confirmation that my message had been posted, didn’t mean to spam

        Leave a Reply
    • Mick
      17 May 2021 at 6:29 pm

      No he was right.. “Hands-on with Starlink by SpaceX, a real competitor for NBN” NBN could bring the stuff out to you guys They could….

      Leave a Reply
    • didi balnaves
      18 May 2021 at 11:43 pm

      We are sydney based but can not get working adsl2, nbn fixed wireless or 4g mobile broadband. We completely fall between the cracks. Despite years of fighting with Telstra, NBN, local MPs no one is prepared to do anything – this would be a godsend for us. Starlink please come to Maraylya

      Leave a Reply
  • Elom Nusk
    16 May 2021 at 8:10 pm

    He says FTTN is cheaper. In regional victoria. And yet I haven’t to this day called NBN had them kindly run 30km of fibre and and nodes to my house to replace skydumpster- maybe I don’t need starlink afterall?

    Leave a Reply
  • Gandalf
    16 May 2021 at 9:16 pm

    Starlink is likely to be the same as 4G, nbn fixed line and nbn satellite broadband. Initially the speeds are good as no one is using the network. As soon a lots of people sign up the speeds to fall significantly. The article is silent on whether Starlink will be offering a speed guarantee. For an upfront fee of $809, the entry price is very high vs nbn

    Leave a Reply
    • Peter
      17 May 2021 at 10:13 am

      Starlink don’t offer any speed guarantees (now or for the future). It remains to be seen whether the technology will be over sold in years to come or if (like even the FTTP NBN) a base level of performance is mostly guaranteed with the higher speeds more of a ‘mostly available but subject to big swings).

      Leave a Reply
  • The General
    17 May 2021 at 8:23 am

    If we compare it to Skymuster. The top plan which is $135 for 25 Mbps down / 5 Mbps up with 150GB Peak + 150Gb Off-peak data it’s a real changer. Though the network starts to get used will congestion be a thing remains to be seen.

    Leave a Reply
  • Luke Poga
    17 May 2021 at 10:01 am

    Terrible article. Its not a competitor. It cant scale. Its amazing for the citizens NBN left behind though. Which is a great many.

    Leave a Reply
    • Jason Cartwright
      17 May 2021 at 1:16 pm

      Time will tell. SpaceX continue to scale out the satellites, so we’ll have to monitor it.

      Leave a Reply
  • Peter
    17 May 2021 at 10:17 am

    Starlink definitely offers to be a magic bullet for those stuck on FTTN or in regional areas. I think a better price comparison would be that it effectively costs (on average) $160 a month for the first three years.

    Also while a few speed tests are nice to know (Starlink seems to be doing pretty well in that department) the bigger issue is stability. Apparently areas with trees and other obstacles can cause down time very easily. Hopefully adding more satellites will reduce this.

    Leave a Reply
    • James
      17 May 2021 at 3:37 pm

      It’ll be interesting to see how Starlink’s upload speeds improve and offer an alternative to the glass ceiling of 50mbps (up) to consumers and small businesses in Australia.

      Leave a Reply
  • Jarrard
    17 May 2021 at 7:44 pm

    Hmm, 39ms and potentially lower is still pretty damn good for some regional people in regards to gaming.
    There are allot allot of games that don’t require cutthroat latency (mmos etc). But certainly FPS shooters benefit from lowest pings possible.

    Lets keep in mind that normal crap NBN satellite offers up to 700ms latency which is just a disgusting joke and shouldn’t even cost money in the first place.

    It would be nice to see Starlink get better upload data rates in the future, say 100Mbps so streaming from home even at 4k 60fps would be possible option.

    Leave a Reply
  • David Brown
    17 May 2021 at 9:21 pm

    If Starlink could drop the price they would get heaps of people living in the bush.
    Lived in the bush as a caretaker for a mine that was closed for 5 years and the sattelite internet was shocking.
    Ping was 500ms or higher and the sattelite company could do nothing about it.
    Was the same for most of the station owners.
    The monthly cost might be to much for them.
    Here’s hoping it can be done for the ones who really need it in the bush..

    Leave a Reply
  • Periperi
    17 May 2021 at 9:26 pm

    A much more balanced and complete article that highlights some real issues and limitations of Starlink. Applications that don’t care about low latency should be ok. Also note there will be > 500ms gap in connectivity every 3 minutes as you connect to the next satellite. This will also happen at the other end where the data stream is heading too.

    https://www.theverge.com/22435030/starlink-satellite-internet-spacex-review

    Leave a Reply
  • T.
    18 May 2021 at 8:59 am

    This is what will kill it for people in the bush. Clowns in the city who already have access to FTTP who will clog the system to save $5 a month.

    Leave a Reply
  • Luke
    18 May 2021 at 9:38 am

    Problem is your not allowed to get Starlink anywhere in Metro even if you are stuck with a useless FTTN connection!

    Leave a Reply
  • Rob
    18 May 2021 at 1:27 pm

    Cannot wait until I get mine! It will be a massive upgrade from my 5mbps ADSL1 that I’m paying $90 a month for (including $30 line rental) as the NBN will never be available where I am.

    Leave a Reply
  • Michael
    18 May 2021 at 10:24 pm

    Musk: Starlink great in rural areas but won’t have enough bandwidth in big cities.

    Leave a Reply
  • Ness
    20 May 2021 at 11:26 am

    Im getting pushed to get NBN and so telstra will cut off broadband copper cables. will starlink work with NBN connections? Or does it use the cable line? I cant get any information on this anywhere.

    Leave a Reply
  • Ness
    20 May 2021 at 11:51 am

    Hi, if you have switched to NBN can the Starlink still be connected ? Telstra will cut off broadband and coppercables. Can anyone tell me what the starlink modem connection needs to be?

    Leave a Reply
  • Avimeso
    21 May 2021 at 6:43 am

    It will replace 4g and shitmuster. Nothing else.
    Im less then 32 degrees and still not be offered. Wish they’d hurry up, cancerous trying to web design/game on 4g my only option beside shit muster. Travelling today to update a new pc for a friend because the connection can’t handle it.

    Leave a Reply
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